Built and grown by a Sicilian immigrant, Baldassare Forestiere, the Underground Gardens of Fresno possesses a rare collection of fruit trees, shrubs and vines planted over 90 years ago.
Born in 1879, Forestiere spent 40 years of his life to creating the gardens. Since its creation, it has been passed down from generation to generation and still remains a family business. Decades later, it is now shared and open to the public.
“We get people from all over—national and international,” said Austin Hall, a tour guide for the gardens.
Hall said that Forestiere had no written plans for the underground gardens, but used shovels, picks and a scraper pulled by two mules.
The garden has a variety of citrus trees which still produce fruit, catacomb-like tunnels and even small living quarters where Forestiere would stay.
Hall said that once Forestiere came to Fresno, he finally realized how horrid the heat was, and that one of his intentions for the gardens was a way to escape the Valley summer. The underground garden’s temperature varies at 10-25 degrees cooler from the ground level during the summer.
Jeremiah Eldredge, a Massachusetts traveler, was intrigued by the garden’s architecture and wild fruit trees. He said that he was traveling with friends in California and stumbled upon the garden.
“I want to live down here,” Eldredge said. “This place is sweet.”
Eldredge said that he was impressed with the architecture — an underground fortress in the middle of the Valley.
Forestiere, a Roman Catholic, also infused religious aspects within the garden, including the Trinity Courtyard and the Chapel Garden.
The underground garden, Hall said, even had parking spaces, complete with auto tunnels which welcomed guests eager to escape the heat without even leaving their cars.
“He would want people to come into his gardens easily,” Hall said.
He added that Forestiere’s brother Giuseppe saved the garden following his death. Giuseppe Forestiere then passed the garden down his family lineage, preserving the Fresno landmark.
“This is an example of someone being able to build a vision of theirs,” Hall said. “This guy made something so unique so people in Fresno know what this is.”